Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Road to Reserves - Emergency Vehicle Operation Classroom & Course

Many of the principles we learn over the course of this reserve academy will help us to remain safe from harm in our personal lives. We have honed some defensive tactics skills, in the event we ever need to defend ourselves, and spent a good number of hours at the firing range, in case we choose to arm ourselves with a personal handgun.

Driving is no exception. Surprisingly, the concepts we covered this past week are not specific only to emergency vehicle operation. Instead, any driver can implement these techniques to reduce their likelihood of being involved in a crash.

Emergency Vehicle Operation Course Classroom 1 & 2

We spent Tuesday and Thursday nights in the classroom, gearing up for our first day behind the wheel of a patrol car on Saturday.

Law enforcement professionals spend a tremendous amount of time behind the wheel, so learning good fundamentals and focusing on safety is key. Because of all that driving, we were told peace officers are eight times more likely to be involved in a collision than the average driver. They are also more likely to die in a crash than as a result of a felonious assault.

During the class, we covered some basic guidelines for staying safe on the road.
  1. Watch your speed. This is the primary preventable cause of crashes and the most frequent complaint from the public regarding peace officers’ driving.
  2. Clear intersections. When entering an intersection with lights and sirens on, we must ensure the vehicles in each individual lane have stopped completely. Verbalizing the check of each lane and making eye contact with every driver will help us complete this safely. 
  3. Know your newer vehicle. As of 2012, all new cars are equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic steering control (ESC), and traction control. These features impact how a vehicle operates, so we need to understand them so as not to exceed our vehicle’s capabilities.
  4. Look where you want to go. Keep your eyes on the path you want to travel, not nearby obstructions or objects on the side of the roadway. Your car will drive toward wherever your eyes are looking.
  5. Give the road its due. The term “multi-tasking” is actually a misnomer, since a person can only truly focus on one thing at a time. For this reason, we should commit our full attention to the road and resist the urge to work on any tasks that can wait until we reach our destination.
Next up were some technical concepts that reminded me of barely passing physics class in high school. We discussed how rolling friction, rotational inertia, gyroscopic precession, and centrifugal force impact our ability to accelerate, steer, and stop efficiently.

Awareness of these force factors will allow us to anticipate and, at times, counteract their influence.

Learning about electronic steering control
The Oregon Revised Statutes shed light on our legal driving authority. Emergency vehicles, as defined in ORS 801.260, have some special driving allowances, but only under certain circumstances. These exceptions, outlined in ORS 820.300, include the ability to “proceed past a red signal” and “exceed the designated speed limits.”

ORS 820.320, Illegal operation of emergency vehicle or ambulance, further specifies these exceptions are granted only when the driver is responding to an emergency call. Additionally, a visual warning (in the form of emergency lights) must be displayed when the vehicle is exercising these privileges.

During our second classroom session, we watched a number of unsettling videos of crashes involving patrol vehicles. The message behind this footage was that a great number of crashes are avoidable, so long as we constantly keep safety in mind and don’t exceed the vehicle’s, or our own, capabilities.

We are able to look at case law, such as Biscoe v. Arlington County, to further guide us. This precedent states peace officers must in every case weigh the benefits of immediate apprehension against the risks of pursuit.

“Pursuit” is a word commonly heard in emergency vehicle operation discussions. There are actually two distinct types of pursuit. A pursuit of a person clearly involves trying to stop and apprehend a fleeing suspect, while the pursuit of time occurs as a peace officer tries to quickly respond to a priority call.

While we cannot safely practice pursuit driving in emergency vehicle operation course (EVOC) training, we can build necessary skills and engrain safety basics and good driving decision making.

Emergency Vehicle Operation Course

I was told by a friend that one of your first thoughts when starting the first day of EVOC is something to the effect of, “I am a terrible driver and I don’t know how I ever earned a driver’s license.” This was a fair assessment.

Most of us probably believe we’re decently skilled behind the wheel of a car, but learning the safe operation of a patrol car can be humbling. 

My view from the back seat!
We gathered in a large parking lot where a number of patrol vehicles, and an even greater number of orange traffic cones, were arranged. While I anticipated a slow start, we quickly hopped into vehicles and hit the road! The first time I took the wheel was driving at the speed limit through winding roads east of Beaverton and then on the highway to return to our original location.

The twisting roads provided the opportunity to practice “cornering,” which is a technique to safely round corners, while remaining prepared to respond to any obstruction that may appear around a blind curve.

More shuffle steering practice
This was also our first chance to practice “shuffle steering,” which is quite different than the hand-over-hand steering method I’ve been using for the last 17 years. Shuffle steering involves drawing an imaginary vertical line down the center of the steering wheel. The left hand remains on the left side of the wheel, and the right hand remains on the ride side. The driver’s hands sit at 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and retain contact with the wheel at all times.

We returned to the course and took turns navigating it. We had a variety of vehicles to choose from, including Ford Crown Victoria, Chevrolet Caprice, Dodge Charger, and Ford Explorer. We were encouraged to try out different models throughout the day.

The day’s courses included several different driving challenges:
  • Accelerate to 40 mph and then “threshold brake,” which is braking as quickly as possible without engaging ABS.
  • Parallel parking on driver’s side and passenger side.
  • Slalom driving around cones, forward and in reverse.
  • Driving around a curve, forward and in reverse.
  • Parking, forward and in reverse.
  • Rapid lane changes.

Many an orange cone was squished among the 13 of us. Overall, we did all improve throughout the day and discovered our personal areas of proficiency.

Next week we will be tasked with completing two laps of a difficult course, with a time limit.


Somehow, each week it surprises me to glance at our schedule and see we are one week closer to graduating. At this point, we have only five weeks of classes before our final exam.

With that said, I think it’s time for me to go study my ORS books and practice reverse slalom driving!

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